Something I hear other parents talking about often is their child's schedule or routine. These schedules and routines seem to include any and everything that happens to their child throughout the day. It keeps parents from making plans: "Oh no, that's too late for the kids to be out" or "Sorry, we can't come cause that's right in the middle of nap time."
The lack of regular schedules can be stressful, especially when a child is thrown off of their sleep schedule. I'm sure every parent has experienced a sleepless night with a toddler because their nap was extra long that day or they had a rough afternoon with a cranky child who insisted on going without a nap.
Most parents know the importance of a schedule and routine for their children for two reasons: it has been stressed to them by other parents or they've experienced the chaos that can ensue without them. The benefits of having this type of structure for your child aren't just anecdotal though. It's been said that children have a better chance of academic and behavioral success when they are given schedules and routines at home and at school. Children want to know what to expect and what is expected of them, they crave predictability.
So if I know this to be true, why would I say that I ditched a daily schedule for my kids? Well, I guess because what happened exactly is that I ditched my perception of the perfect daily schedule. I dropped the "shoulds" and started doing what worked best for us.
I've realized that for my family and for my kids, a strict daily schedule isn't vital for us. My husband and I provide our children with stability—my kids know that we'll be there in the morning when they wake up.
I've realized that keeping a schedule for your children can mean more than one thing. It seems that parents as "schedule followers" have a wide range of what that looks like for their family, and maybe even for each child. We know that every child is different and each has their own unique needs. Understanding this was a game-changer.
Family work, day care, and school schedules also made a huge impact on our family's home schedule. I became a mom five years ago and my work schedule has been different every year. I've changed jobs or my hours shifted at one of my jobs and I also spent two of these five years finishing my degree which meant different class schedules each semester.
Related: Baby Sleep Guides & Schedules
All of this to say, I felt like I was failing by not having my kids in bed asleep at the same time every night. I would experience guilt for having dinner ready a little late some nights (or even a few nights a week). Some days, when I had focused kid time, we'd spend the day at the zoo or a park and just play right through nap time which meant my kids would fall asleep right before dinner. I would stress or worry that I wasn't parenting right because I wasn't good at sticking to a daily schedule.
But recently, I've realized that for my family and for my kids, a strict daily schedule isn't vital for us. My husband and I provide our children with stability—my kids know that we'll be there in the morning when they wake up. They know that when they aren't being cared for by us, they'll be cared for by family, friends, or teachers who love them.
My kids can expect that they'll have to clean up their toys before they go to sleep. Cuddles at bedtime are always part of our nighttime routine. We try to play outside, read, and dance during each day. I also try to make a point of laying out my plan for the morning or afternoon for my 5-year-old because he likes to know what's coming next.
I'm not writing this to tell anyone that they should throw out their schedule right now, and I definitely wouldn't want anyone to read this and think they're doing something wrong.
What I am saying is that everyone should find what works for their family right now, in the season that they're in.
Schedules used to cause me stress—and that's not only hard on me, but it's also hard on my kids. Instead, I have found what keeps our family happy and it doesn't feel disorganized or chaotic. I'd encourage you to revisit how your days are going and see where you could rework things to make for a smoother day.
And if you're feeling guilty or overwhelmed (like I was!) about staying on a schedule or the lack of one entirely—it doesn't have to feel like that. You know your children and your family and although it may take some time and patience, you can find ways to implement routines that meet your children's needs and works for your crew.
A version of this post was published March 5, 2019. It has been updated.